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A Healing Nutrient Profile: Zinc

Mar 8 2021
3 min read
Close-up of pumpkin and sunflower seeds in wooden spoons.

Zinc is a true multi-tasker. This essential mineral plays myriad roles in the body, touching on practically every system.

But perhaps its most important role is in supporting the immune system.

Medical News Today recently featured a long list of the benefits of zinc, including enabling the body to make proteins and DNA, preventing or delaying macular degeneration, and helping to heal wounds. This mineral also helps us metabolize macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein), and has been found to play a role in taste and smell. And if that’s not enough, zinc is a component of one of the most important antioxidant enzymes – called superoxide dismutase – where it helps to fight free radicals.

How Much Zinc Do You Need?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11 milligrams (mg) per day for adults (slightly less if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding). Because we absorb less of it from plant sources than from meat, vegetarians may need more zinc – up to 50 percent more, in some cases. If you have a condition that affects nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, you may also need more than the RDA.

Most of us get enough zinc from what we eat. Adults should consume no more than 40 mg per day; getting too much from supplements can cause gastrointestinal problems, low levels of copper, loss of appetite and headaches, and it can impair immune function and lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, thereby increasing heart disease risk.

Research is conflicting regarding the effects of zinc supplements for relief of the common cold. If you’re dealing with a cold, taking 30 mg per day of zinc might reduce the severity and duration of your illness, especially if you take it within 24 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

What Are Good Sources of Zinc?

Red meat, poultry, certain types of shellfish, legumes, nuts, whole grains, dairy, and fortified cereals are all good sources of zinc. Here are some of our favorite foods that contain plenty of this powerhouse mineral:

Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount of Zinc: 103mg

Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
Serving Size: 1/3 cup
Amount of Zinc: 20

Canned baked beans
Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount of Zinc: 15

Lean roast beef
Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount of Zinc: 8

Wheat germ
Serving Size: 1/4 cup
Amount of Zinc: 5

Dark meat turkey
Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount of Zinc: 5

Dark meat chicken
Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount of Zinc: 3

Refried beans
Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount of Zinc: 3

100% bran cereal
Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount of Zinc: 3

You can find the zinc content of other foods by using the USDA FoodData Central database.